Illegally Yours

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Rob Lowe, Colleen Camp, Kenneth Mars, Kim Meyers

When I think back on my days when I was a child, I think about my days in school, from elementary school to high school. There are a lot of memories about my time being educated that I try not to think of because they make me uncomfortable for one reason or another. Small wonder that if I were to be asked what my favorite times of school were, I would definitely include "lunch" and "preparing to leave at the end of the day." Oh, there was one other thing from time to time that happened in school that I enjoyed a lot, and that was movie time. Defying copyright and public exhibition laws that were set in stone even at my tender age, occasionally my teachers would give my class a break and we'd watch a movie just for fun. Some such movies included Star Wars, Jaws, and Duel, and they were always well appreciated by myself and the other students in my class. However, there were times when we were shown movies that had some kind of tie to what we were studying. For example, when we were reading the teen angst novel The Outsiders, we did watch the Francis Ford Coppola-directed movie version in class, but we also watched the 1979 movie Breaking Away for an assignment where we had to compare the teenagers in both movies, listing both the similarities and the difference between them. Later on in high school, in English class we were studying the original Reginald Rose script for the 1954 teleplay 12 Angry Men. Since at the time of the assignment, the original filmed version was feared lost (it was rediscovered in 2003), we were shown the 1957 feature-length theatrical version starring Henry Fonda. Watching it, I remember being struck by several things. It was greatly expanded from the original teleplay, but I found that the expansions actually enhanced the story instead of slowing it down. Also, seeing the characters right in front of me with their heated debates was far more impactful than imagining it while reading the teleplay.

It probably should come as no surprise that this was one classic movie that in the years between when I first saw it and this present day, I've seen several times. Each time I watch the movie, I am still struck by several things about it, not just those things I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The biggest thing that always catches my attention is the portrayal of a jury. As you no doubt know, in real life, juries are given a cloak of anonymiity - we often don't know the jurists' names until after the trial is over, and we don't see them when they are not in the jury box, from when they go home for the day or to a hotel to rest, or when they make their final judgement behind closed doors. So seeing the 12 Angry Men jurists arguing and making their cases is like a rare peek. There is also additional interest nowadays for me having learned over the years that some of the actions the jurists make in the movie are things that in real life, jurists are forbidden by the judge to do. Remember the scene where Henry Fonda whipped out that switchblade knife, having got it while doing some investigating of his own? That would be a big no-no. But thinking about it, I can understand why some jurists during a trial would like to do their own investigating into the case, in order to get a better idea of things and to get evidence one way or another that would point to the defendant's guilty or innocence. I remember one episode of the classic '80s television show MacGyver, where the title character was part of a sequestered jury on a murder case. MacGyver during the trial was starting to get doubts, so he made a clever plan to sneak out of his hotel room one night without the police guard spotting him, so he could confirm his suspicions. The episode did make clear why MacGyver felt he had to investigate on his own, and his plan to sneak out of the hotel was plausible. What wasn't plausible, however, was how he managed to sneak back into his hotel room without the guard seeing him; the episode was completely missing that explanation.

There is definitely a silly side to the idea of a jurist making his or her own investigation, so that's one reason why I thought I would give Illegally Yours a whirl, because it promised to be a comic take on this idea. Another thing that attracted me to Illegally Yours was its troubled history. Illegally YoursThe movie was originally made as a production of the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, but DEG around the end of principal photography started to experience financial problems (later, they went bankrupt.) In order to ease their financial situation, they decided to sell Illegally Yours to MGM/UA, which around this time was in a frenzy buying movies. However, for unclear reasons, the majority of the movies MGM/UA was buying around this time were being barely released to theaters, or went straight to video (maybe because MGM/UA was having its own share of financial problems at the time.) MGM/UA only ended up releasing Illegally Yours to a few theaters (all in California, I believe), where it quickly died, and then was dumped on video with no fanfare, and promptly forgotten. But here on The Unknown Movies, I am resurrecting it, at least for a short amount of time. The movie's main character is Richard Dice (Lowe, Bad Influence) a sad sack young man unlucky in love who after his latest heartbreak moves back to his home state of Florida to live with his mother (Jessica James, I, The Jury) and stepfather (Rick Jason, Combat!) His hellish life is then interrupted when he gets summoned for jury duty. Although he goes with the intent to be dismissed, Richard is shocked to see that the defendant, on trial for murder, is Molly (Camp, The Vagrant), a woman he knew all the way back in grade school and had a serious crush on. Still fond of his unrequited love, Richard during the jury selection stage pretends that he never knew Molly, and ends up being chosen to be on the jury. As the trial proceeds, Richard then proceeds to use his spare time out of the courthouse to start his own investigation and hopefully prove Molly is innocent, making it possible to then win her heart. But Richard soon learns that not only is he risking being caught by the law, he also risks being added to the death list by forces that are unclear at first.

Before getting into an analysis of Illegally Yours, I feel that I should first mention that it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, the director behind great movies such as Targets, The Last Picture Show, and What's Up, Doc? However, by the time he made Illegally Yours, he could have been renamed "Peter Boggeddownavich", seeing he wasn't able to get out of the great slide his reputation had gone down since his glory days. In case you still don't have a clue as to what Illegally Yours is like, let me report that Bogdanovich today considers it by far to be his worse movie. It is indeed a very, very bad movie, but in fairness to Bogdanovich, a significant part of the movie's failure is not his fault. If you are familiar with other DEG movies of the period, no doubt you know how bad a lot of them look. This effort has many of their trademark features, some of them being bland and washed-out soft photography, tacky and worn-out indoor and outdoor locations, and a general feeling of real cheapness with its set dressings and any other production niceties you can think of. Also, stories of the movie's alleged taxing shoot and subsequent chaotic post-production work seem to be true, given that the end results are being held together with such an obvious and distracting band-aid of sorts, that being the use of narration from actor Rob Lowe's character. The voice of Lowe seems to pop up every few minutes, whether to comment on the action that is going on in front of our eyes, or to give us some plot or character details that haven't been displayed at all. If you remember my review of America 3000, no doubt you will remember that excessive and often redundant narration is a sign of desperation by studio brass to make the movie in question more lively and more coherent than how it was originally intended.

But guess what? This particular contrived device doesn't manage to accomplish any of those aforementioned intentions in the case of Illegally Yours. Even with the use of narration, I didn't have even a little bit of a clue as to what was going on regarding the whole murder mystery angle. Hell, in the opening scene showing us the actual murder, Lowe's non-stop narration mixed with the murky motivations of the characters had me completely bewildered. Even Lowe himself comments on the incoherence ("This is kind of confusing, isn't it?") The narrative just gets worse from that point. We see scenes stop in midstream and then cut to the next scene before characters can deal with any consequences, and the movie's key trial subplot is forgotten about for long periods of time. When it is playing out onscreen, we witness things like the prosecution team taking less than a day to make their complete argument about the case. By the time the movie got to the climax, I wasn't surprised with it being just as badly edited, frenzied, and incoherent as everything else that had happened up to that point. Needless to say, by then I simply didn't care what had happened, why it happened, who was who, who wanted what, and how everyone would end up. The cast, with the exception of Ira Heiden (Alias) as Lowe's character's younger brother Andrew Dice (no joke is made about that, in case you are wondering), who clearly has some idea of how his snarky character should be played, are completely lost in the tornado, particularly Lowe. Lowe is game, but even then he can't shake off the problem of being completely miscast. His attempts to come across as a clumsy but loveable and determined underdog in the vein of Harold Lloyd (even wearing glasses like Lloyd), are utter clumsy at best, embarrassing at their worst.

But any actor in the role would be struggling because the character of Richard Dice is pretty much an empty shell. He's unlucky in love, and is obsessed with his former schoolmate. That's essentially all we learn about Illegally Yours DVDhim. This might have been forgivable had this character and the rest of the movie succeeded in its main attempt - to be funny. But you guessed it - Illegally Yours is not the least bit funny. Not only is the comic material in the movie not all that amusing by itself, Bogdanovich slaughters anything remotely humorous with his extremely heavy-handed style. The slapstick is crude and clumsy, the energy level comes across as exhausting instead of extremely buoyant and fast-paced, and the dialogue is practically screamed when not screamed, becoming instantly and completely grating. I sat through the entire movie not caring about anything on display. Oh, come to think about it, there was one funny thing I found about Illegally Yours. Remember that theatrical poster of the movie I had displayed about three paragraphs ago? Well, after the movie's scant theatrical release and subsequent dumping on VHS, the artwork for the movie changed in subsequent reissues of the movie. In the reissues, the poster art is the same, except that Rob Lowe's glasses have been airbrushed out. Did someone at MGM/UA think for some reason that an image of a glasses-free Lowe would sell the movie better? The idea is so dumb it makes me laugh a little. Actually, there may have been another reason why Lowe's glasses were airbrushed out, that being that someone at MGM/UA was trying to tell the myopic members of the public that watching Illegally Yours without their glasses would make the movie look better than it actually is.

(Posted October 6, 2021)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for availability of Rob Lowe's autobiography on Amazon

See also: Collision Course, Detective School Dropouts, Million Dollar Mystery